A South Florida judge resigned on Friday after being recorded berating a woman in a wheelchair who was having trouble breathing due to multiple medical conditions, and died just three days later. Broward County Circuit Court Judge Merrilee Ehrlich gave defendant Sandra Faye Twiggs, 59, who was in her court facing misdemeanor charges following a family dispute, a verbal beat-down in a video dated April 15. Ehrlich’s tongue-lashing of Twiggs was so extreme that her public defender, Howard Finkelstein, demanded the judge be banned from presiding over criminal proceedings. ‘It is not appropriate for anyone to endure that kind of treatment,’ Finkelstein’s chief assistant, Gordon Weekes, told the Miami Herald. Twiggs appeared before Ehrlich in a video feed from the North Broward Bureau during the hearing in bond court. In the video, she can be heard attempting to broach the issue of her medical condition with Judge Ehrlich, who shouts her down, saying, ‘I’m not here to talk about your breathing treatments.’ A family friend of Twiggs said that Twiggs, who suffered from both asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), had difficulty getting her medications while in custody after being arrested for a domestic violence issue in Lauderhill on April 13. Upon returning home after the hearing, Carolyn Porter described Twiggs as starving, dizzy and borderline breathless. ‘She came home so devastated she couldn’t catch her breath,’ Porter said. Ehrlich’s entire encounter with Twiggs was marked with aggressive shouting as Twiggs tried to answer questions. Ehrlich also turned her ire on the attorneys in the room, imploring them to chastise Twiggs for what she perceived as bad courtroom manners from the defendant. ‘Will you say something in the microphone so that she can hear you and you can give her instructions about propriety in the court?’ the judge said. ‘I’m not going to spend all day with her interrupting me.’ At other points in the video, Ehrlich shouted at Twiggs, ‘You’ve already said too much!’ and admonished her for saying more than ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when she tried to explain that her 19-year-old daughter, Michelle Ballard, lived both with her, and her sister, in Miami. Twiggs’ sister, Anna Twiggs, told ABC News that the experience affected the defendant so much, that she found her dead in her home on Wednesday. Recalling what her sister told her after coming home from the hearing, Anna Twiggs recounted: ‘She said, “They treated me so bad,” and she said, “All I wanted was some medical attention and some help.” Twiggs wasn’t the only one verbally attacked by Ehrlich that day, either. ‘She raised her voice to many defendants, berated the attorneys and was impatient and exasperated during the proceedings,’ FInkelstein wrote in a letter to Chief Judge Jack Tuter, dated April 20. ‘Judge Ehrlich’s bullying continued into the next hearing, another misdemeanor allegation. The Judge was informed that Nefreteri Tamalo had no income and was a stay-at-home mother to her nine month old child,’ he wrote. ‘In making a bond determination, Judge Ehrlich stated that the father of Ms. Tamalo’s infant was at home to care for the child. When a panicked and crying Ms. Tamalo tried to correct this mistake, the Judge angrily silenced her. As with the previous hearing, Judge Ehrlich would not listen to the defendant. Concerned about her child, Ms. Tamalo again tried to speak and the Judge yelled, “Ma’am, be quiet or be removed. Be quiet.”‘ He described Ehrlich’s behavior as ‘aggressive and tyrannical.’ Referring back to Ehrlich’s treatment of Twiggs, who died following her encounter with the judge, Finkelstein’s chief assistant noted the woman ‘never had the opportunity to have her dignity restored.’ ‘All that was required was a bit of patience, and a bit of respect to allow this lady to speak, to gather herself and to breathe,’ Weekes said. Ehrlich was not immediately available for comment.
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